On Oct. 6, astronaut and physician Mae C. Jemison addressed nearly 200 business, education and government leaders at Fairfax Futures’ School Readiness Leadership Forum. The event, held at the Capital One Financial Corp. headquarters in McLean, Va., allowed Jemison to speak in support of increased science, technology, engineering and math (S.T.E.M.) education for America’s youngest students. According to the astronaut, who was the first Black woman to enter space, children are innate scientists with a love of learning.

“You don’t have to instill curiosity in children – they are already excited, motivated and interested,” Jemison said at the event. “Science is misunderstood. Science is the search for understanding. With understanding we can develop solutions to our problems and technology puts that understanding to practical use.”

The program included remarks by Dr. Joan Lombardi, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Deputy Assistant Secretary and Inter-Departmental Liaison for Early Childhood Development Administration. She echoed Jemison’s sentiments and said early childhood education is essential to the nation’s success.

“Children are excited about math and science because they help them understand and navigate their world,” Dr. Lombardi said.

“Early childhood education is the engine of education reform,” she said, adding that her work with communities is “aiming for a culture that focuses on early learning from birth through age eight.”

Fairfax Futures is a nonprofit organization that raises awareness and support for early childhood education initiatives in Fairfax County, Va.